German car giant, Mercedes, turned to Cheshire this week in a bid to add some spice to the press launch of its new GLA crossover writes Barry Hook
Journalists have been transported 500-feet undergound – complete with high-vis jackets, hard hats, breathing apparatus and helmet lamps – to drive the car on a mile-and-a-half circuit in Britain’s largest salt mine.
Planning for this unusual way to demonstrate a car’s off-road capabilities began around 15 months ago to get the necessary permissions and satisfy all relevant health and safety regulations.
Then, Mercedes had to construct a special cage to get four GLAs – three for driving and one to serve as a subterranean coffee shop – into the pit lift. Even then, the cars had to go down end-on.
Mercedes expects to more than double its SUV and crossover sales in the UK in the next 12-months with the arrival of the new GLA.
It is the company’s fourth SUV in Britain, joining the M-Class, the GL and the venerable G-Class, which is still going strong after 33 years in production.
But the compact GLA, with a much lower start price of £25,850, will become easily the best seller of the four. It is available as a front-wheel drive entry-level diesel model – the GLA 200 CDI – or with four-wheel drive in the diesel CLA 220 CDI and the petrol GLA 250.
A high-performance GLA 45 AMG, which has set a faster lap time than a Porsche Boxster S around the Nurburgring, will join the range later in the year.
Mercedes is predicting that 70% of GLA sales in the UK will be of the four-wheel-drive models, in contrast to other compact SUVs, which are largely bought on looks rather than all-wheel-drive capability.
As for using a salt mine to demonstrate the car’s four-wheel drive capabilities . . . well, Mercedes could have peppered-up the demonstration by taking journalists down to the Somerset Levels. That would have been a real test for the new vehicle. There are not many hills in a salt mine, but at least it was a good test of the headlights!